Lessons from US 58th Quadrennial Presidential Election for Nigeria: The Case of Integrity of Purpose

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Vie Internationale
with Bola Akinterinwa
Telephone : 0807-688-2846
e-mail: bolyttag@yahoo.com

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The 58th quadrennial presidential election in the United States (US) will hold on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, being the Tuesday after the first Monday in November following the last presidential inauguration. This is in accordance with the rule established in 1845. The election can be explained and understood at two levels: the people’s election of the ‘electors’ and the ‘election of the president by the electors.’

At the level of election by the electors, the November 8, 2016 election is necessarily that of the election of Mr. President, in other words, that of the President by the Electoral College by direct vote. The election of members of the Electoral College, which was introduced in 1787 to ensure that the US president is always elected on the basis of popular majority and merit, is the first step in the presidential election system which is largely inspired by the Roman Catholic college system of electing Cardinals who eventually elect the Catholic Pope.

What is important to note about the Electoral College is that its members are directly elected by the people, from whom the College derives its legitimacy. When the College is constituted, on the basis of its legitimacy, its members now decide which presidential candidate to vote for. More important is the issue of computation of number of votes. Each constitutive state of the US has a number of electors in each state electoral college and the number of seats is consistent with what each state has in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.

For instance, the State of California has 55 electoral votes, being the biggest state, while Washington DC and Wyoming have three electoral votes each. With the exception of the States of Maine and Nebraska, both of which have the policy of winner-takes-all-the-votes, all the other states have a specific number of electors determined by population criterion. In all, there are 538 electors and therefore 538 votes, meaning that 270 votes, representing absolute majority, is required to be elected president. It is the Congress that has the constitutional responsibility of certifying the election of the President and his vice. In the event there is no absolute majority, it is the House of Representatives that have responsibility to choose the president while the Senate chooses the Vice President in the absence of absolute majority.

Essentially at the level of electing the electors, the US presidential election can be likened to what obtains in a semi-presidential system in terms of two-round voting system. For instance, in France, all registered and qualified candidates are allowed to contest in presidential elections in the first round, but only the two candidates with the highest number of votes are qualified to compete in the second round of election. The objective of this second round of voting is to ensure that the president is elected by genuine popular vote.

Electing the electors of the US president has the same purpose of ensuring popular majority. One major difference is that voting is indirect in the context of the US while it is direct in the two rounds of election in France. In both cases, however, the issue of integrity of purpose is always raised.

Ken Silverstein wrote on November 2, 2016 in the Observer that ‘this election has disgraced the entire profession of journalism,’ because reporters and journalism have been ‘reduced to surrogacy largely on behalf of Hilary Clinton.’ Silverstein has it further that the two main candidates, Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump are ‘shitty candidates, neither of whom is fit to lead the country.’ In his eyes, while ‘Donald Trump is a reckless narcissist who … cannot string together more than two sentences, let alone articulate a coherent vision for the country’s future,’ as reflected in his statements on women, Latinos and African-Americans, Hilary Clinton ‘put classified information on a private server that was almost certainly obtained by foreign intelligence services. She stonewalled and lied to the FBI during its investigation… She and her family run a foundation that aggressively solicited donations from corporations, wealthy individuals and foreign governments that have interests before the government.’

The situational reality of the personality of the two candidates, as evidenced by issues in their campaigns, has led to calls for their stepping down. Donald Trump once said that undocumented Mexican immigrants in the US are rapists and do bring drugs to the US. In fact, he said he would build a wall between the US and Mexico. Without doubt, there are many questions on their integrity at the domestic level and so are there many of them at the international level. Consequently, the 58th quadrennial election raises more of international questions, than domestic, matter, thus raising that of great power politics.

Great Power Politics and Implications

At the level of great power politics, the position of China favours the election of Hilary Clinton. A survey carried out in October 2016 in Mainland China showed that 37% of respondents supported Clinton, compared with 22% for Trump. At the same time, American Pew Research Centre, 35% of respondents in another survey were against Clinton while 40% were against Trump. This means that, for the people of China, Clinton is preferred. Even though the position of Beijing authority is yet to be categorically made clear, the editorial of the state-controlled Global Times considers Trump as a racist, meaning that, to an extent, there are reservations about the candidacy of Trump. The implication of this is that Sino-American ties are likely to witness better understanding under a Clinton administration.

At the level of Russia, the same cannot be argued. The election of Hilary Clinton has the potential to serve as a catalytic agent of the emerging new Cold War. Russia is staunchly against Hilary Clinton and has openly done much to influence support for Donald Trump. In fact, the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, has warned of a possible war in the event of election of Hilary Clinton.

The reasons for Russian opposition to Hilary Clinton are not far-fetched. First, Clinton supported the Russians who protested against Putin’s re-election in 2012. Second, Frida Ghitis, a World Affairs Columnist for the Miami Herald and World Politics Review, has it that the Russian president appears to be genuinely afraid of Hilary Clinton, and therefore has been undermining Clinton’s presidential campaigns. Clinton is seen to be an obstacle to the expansionist policy of President Putin. In fact, shortly before the Democratic National Convention, Russian security agencies reportedly hacked the e-mails of the Democratic National Convention. Additionally, the e-mails of John Podesta, the Chairman of Hilary Clinton’s Campaign Organisation, were also hacked thereafter.

Third, while Russia under Vladimir Putin has reportedly intensified campaigns against the liberal democratic model in the West, undermining trans-Atlantic relations, manipulating Eastern European countries, as well as supporting the Far Right against the European Union, Hilary Clinton has promised to find ways ‘to confine, contain, and deter Russian aggression in Europe and beyond.’ In the context of Donald Trump, he says he might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, suspend economic sanctions against Russia, as well as align his policy in Syria with that of Presidents Putin and Assad.

Fourth, and perhaps more disturbingly, when in 2014 Putin justified the annexation of Crimea as an attempt to protect Russian minorities, Hilary Clinton described the attempt as reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s justification for taking over parts of Eastern Europe. This prompted Putin to say that Clinton ‘has never been too graceful in her statements.’

With this type of deep misunderstanding, and bearing in mind Hilary Clinton’s declared intention to impose a no-fly zone in Syria which will contain the activities of Russia’s and Syrian armies, there is no way Russia would have condoned a Clintonian presidency.

Again, relationship between the EU and the US under Donald Trump administration is much likely to be difficult, not necessarily because most of EU countries used to show greater understanding for the democrats than for the republicans, but essentially because of Donald Trump’s views of the world and his declared policy directions. For instance, at the level of France, President François Hollande has it that ‘if the Americans choose Trump that will have consequences, because an American election is a world election… It could lead to a very strong turn to the right in the world, or to a correction… The American campaign shows issues that will be reflected in the French campaign’ in the forthcoming spring election of 2017 in France.

More significant, President Hollande has said that Donald Trump’s excesses were sickening and that ‘the excesses make you want to retch, even in the United States, especially when – as was Donald Trump’s case – he speaks ill of a soldier, of the memory of a soldier (a US Muslim soldier killed in Iraq in 2004.’

At the level of Great Britain, the viewpoint is the same. According to a Professor of American Studies at the University of Birmingham, Scott Lucas, ‘most people in the United Kingdom would feel much more comfortable with Hillary, because she’s a known factor. Even if you disagree with her, you know pretty much where she’s going to come from.’

Additionally, in his reaction to Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London, sees the intended ban as ‘an extraordinary thing for a candidate for the office of the President of the US to say. Basically because America as I understand it, is a country built on the ideal of welcoming people irrespective of their race, religion, color or creed or whatever.’

Therefore, speaking grosso modo at the level of the great powers, political sentiments are for Hillary Clinton. As the two candidates have skeletons in their cupboards, Hillary Clinton is considered preferable. Thus, what lessons can Nigeria draw from the election?

Implications of Electing Clinton or Trump

Africa, in general, and Nigeria, in particular, is not in any way considered a major focus of the foreign policy direction of both candidates. Hilary Clinton places greater emphasis on increasing cooperation with China; reinforcing alliances in the Asia-Pacific, especially with Japan and South Korea; stepping up US deterrents against Chinese cyber-attacks; as well as dealing more decisively with Chinese human rights records. On the contrary, Donald Trump wants to increase US military presence in and around the South China Sea; investigate and punish China for unfair trade practices; designate China as a currency manipulator; and speed up the US deterrent action against Chinese cyber-attacks.

Both candidates underscore the need for free trade agreements and opposition to Trans-Pacific Partnership. Apart from the issues of trade and immigration in which Africans are tangentially concerned, all the other issues of concern to the two candidates do not have any priority for Nigeria. The other main issues are: national defence, energy and climate, Islamic State, North Korea, and Russia. Consequently, there may not be any big deal about whoever is eventually elected when considering the protection of the national interest of the US. It is only the approach to the protection that may differ.

However, in terms of derivable benefit and lessons from the Clintonian and Trump’s administration, there is no disputing the fact that Nigeria has the potential to benefit more from President Clinton than from President Trump. First, Trump is on record to have discriminated against African-Americans in the allocation of houses when he was in charge of estate management in New York. He was always against the black man. This directly negates one important focus of Nigeria’s foreign policy.

Secondly, former President Bill Clinton laid a solid foundation for closer rapport between the US and Nigeria when he was president. This explains in part why the main airport road in Abuja was named Bill Omowale Clinton Drive (Omowale is the Nigerian name given to him by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, meaning that ‘the son (of the soil) has come back home.’ This means that there are already sentimental attachments between Nigeria and the US on which to further strengthen the ties.

Thirdly, the election of Donald Trump has the great potential to precipitate the decline of the US as a super power to the advantage of both China and Russia, as well as deepen hostility vis-à-vis the US. The President of Philippines has indicated the separation of his country from the US, apparently in terms of their colonial ties but without severing ties. The president even said his country would join the other two enemies of the US, that is, China and Russia, to oppose the US. With the general hostility of the world towards Donald Trump’s declared policies, the people of America can only suffer from it under Donald Trump.

What is important to also note here is that the greatness of the American people is largely sustained by other countries of the world. The leadership of the US in the conduct and management of international affairs is, at best, meaningless without the followership of other countries. The moment any Donald Trump believes, most unfortunately erroneously, that the US can be an island to itself without followership, then the theory of Professor Jean-Baptiste Duroselle of the University of Paris Sorbonne cannot but apply: ‘tout empire périra”, that is, ‘every empire shall perish.’ And true enough, any beginning cannot but have an end. What will explain the end, and how it will take place, is what is not always known in the beginning. But without scintilla of doubt, Donald Trump will not only be a source of decline for the Americans but possibly also warrant divine punishment.

The Lessons for Nigeria

A first lesson to note is the issue-oriented character of the presidential campaigns. The discussion of the issues generated constructive insults and abuses but not to the extent of physical violence or use of political thugs as it is done in Africa. All the issues are of national interest. On the issue of whether stricter punishment reduces crime, whether there should be absolute right to gun ownership, whether Obamacare should be expanded, whether there should be vouchers for schools, whether green energy should be prioritized, whether abortion should be considered a woman’s unrestricted right and whether there should be higher taxes on the wealthy, Hilary Clinton strongly agrees while Donald Trump is strongly against.

Even though both candidates are agreed on same-sex marriage, keeping God in public sphere and making voter register easier, Hilary Clinton supports citizenship for illegal aliens while Trump is against. While Trump wants privatization of social security, Clinton is against. On expansion of the military, Clinton is neutral but Trump wants the military expanded. Again, while Clinton disagrees with avoiding foreign entanglements, Trump agrees with it. Consequently, the choice of a presidential candidate is largely determined by the positions of the candidates. If Clinton strongly believes that stimulating, is better than market-led recovery, as an approach, and Trump strongly disagrees with it, it cannot but be clear that the election is about a choice of policy attitude, policy programmes and extent of democracy dividends.

A second lesson is the role of public servants in politics. The role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the determination of integrity of the presidential candidates during the political campaigns is also noteworthy as a lesson. Hilary Clinton was accused of using her private e-mails for official communication, thus raising questions on possible leakage of classified information when she was Secretary of State. She was investigated and cleared of no offence. However, when the FBI discovered some e-mails of Huma Abedin on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the FBI Director, James Comey decided to renew the investigation of Hilary Clinton’s e-mails.

Huma Abedin is the estranged wife of Anthony Weiner, the former New York Congressman who ‘was caught over the summer exchanging lewd and sexually suggestive messages with a 15-year-old girl.’ Human Abedin is also said to be one of the longest serving and most trusted aides of Hilary Clinton.

In light of these factors, on Friday, October 21, 2016, James Comey sent a report to 8 Senate and House Chairmen who are Republicans but copied some ranking democrats on their panels. In the report, he said ‘the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant’ and that he ‘cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work, following the warrant of search issued by the Justice Department to determine if the e-mails contained classified information.

Even though the attempt at opening another investigation has been criticized – a former attorney General, Eric Holder, had described the new investigation as ‘serious error with potentially severe implications – the critical point of observation is the extent to which an agency of government can be involved in politics.

The FBI decided to re-open a closed investigation 11 days to the time of election. Many have argued, and rightly too, that James Comey, being a public servant, is by law prohibited not to use his official position to dabble into politics. James Comey was appointed by a democratic president, Barack Obama, but still decided on the re-investigation for a not-clear purpose. In other words, is his loyalty to the president who appointed him? Apparently no! Is the loyalty to the rule of law? Apparently no! Is it to undermine support for Hilary Clinton: Apparently yes!

If we admit this hypothesis, by implication, we must also admit that there is rivalry between the application of rule of law and the purpose for which the rule of law is made. Explained differently, a rule of law exists for the purposes of good governance, public orderliness, fairness and justice, etc. The modalities for application of the rule of law are also defined but can be ambiguous or inadequate. They can be misinterpreted and misapplied as it is with the FBI.

If James Comey re-opened investigation indirectly to determine whether classified information is contained in the e-mails of one of her aides, is this not consistent with its right of investigation? If it is, does the right cover investigation on the extent of ensuring integrity of presidential candidates? In other words, is the action of James Comey in the national interest? If the FBI’s investigation were to be put in the context of Nigeria, what will be said of the DSS or about the other security agencies?

A third and perhaps the most important lesson, one would say, for Nigeria is the need to seek a greater understanding of the duality of purpose of the foreign policies of the great powers as declaratory policy does not always reflect what empirical experiences indicate. Following the recent release of archival documents to the public, Richard Aldrich, Professor of International Security at the University of Warwick, has reviewed available documents and shown that the EU and even the coinage of the ‘euro’ as a currency was the making of the Americans.

As put, ‘US officials trying to rebuild and stabilize post-war Europe worked from the assumption that it required rapid unification, perhaps leading to a United States of Europe. The encouragement of European unification, one of the most consistent components of Harry S. Truman’s foreign policy, was even more strongly emphasized under his successor, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Moreover, under both Truman and Eisenhower, US policy makers conceived of European unification not only as an important end in itself, but also as a way to solve the German problem’ (vide George Washington’s blog: “The EU was an American Idea”).

The declassified documents also show that US covert operations in postwar Europe included the funding of the European Movement which worked for the rapid unification in Europe. They also show that more than $3 m was discreetly injected between 1949 and 1960 into the Schumann Plan, the European Defence Community and into the European Assembly. This was done through the American Committee on United Europe (ACUE).

Perhaps more interestingly, apart from the fact that unification of Europe was officially made a main conditionality for US Marshall Plan aid, Robert Mundell, Canadian by ius sanguinis, lecturer for seven years at the University of Chicago and for 42 years at the Columbia University, has it that ‘the euro was invented in New York at the Columbia University. Professor Mundell invented both the Euro and the guiding light of Thatcher-Reagan government’s ‘Supply Side Economics’ or as George Bush Sr. accurately called it, ‘voodoo economics. Reagan-Thatcher voodoo and the Euro are two sides of the same coin.’

The import of the foregoing is not the US-making of the European Union per se, but the cardinal objective of doing so. As revealed, the introduction of ‘the Euro was intended to impose a Shock Doctrine straightjacket on Europe, where the banks are stripping Greece and other countries of their public assets, pillaging, plundering, and looting them of their natural resources and wealth.’ This is the point to learn from, as granting of an international aid can be more than a double-edge sword, especially bearing in mind that the US simply operated the 35th Principle of MING dynasty’s War Art (http://www.youtube.com).

And most importantly, the Nigerian-produced Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka has indirectly raised the lesson of integrity and self-respect. He considers, and rightly too, that if Trump wins, he will surely asked all green card holders to reapply. As he reportedly put in an address to the Oxford students, ‘if in the unlikely event he does win, the first thing he will do is to say that all green card holders must reapply to come back into the US,’ and Professor Soyinka does not want to wait to be cut unawares, hence he intends to ‘cut (his) green card (himself) and start packing up.’ The first victim of this cannot but be the New York University’s Institute of American Affairs where he is a scholar-in-residence.

The government of Nigeria owes it a duty to pursue self-respect and self-dignity in international relations (The Punch, November 4, 2016, p.13). Future presidential elections in Nigeria must be issue-oriented in all ramifications, with greater emphasis on the integrity of the candidates. Any candidate with a tainted record must be presented to the general public for decision. This is what makes the US election of global interest.